Robert Randolph & The Family Band

Got Soul
(Sony Masterworks)

Pedal steel guitar player Robert Randolph grew up playing Sacred Steel, an African-American style of music that came out of the Pentecostal church in the 1930s. Sacred Steel makes use of slurred notes, piano-like chords and phrasing that suggests the vocals of gospel singers, sounding far away from the familiar tones of country music.

Randolph never listened to secular music until his early 20s, when he played with John Medeski and the Mississippi Allstars in The Word, an all-instrumental gospel jam band. After that, Randolph put together The Family Band and introduced the sounds of Sacred Steel to the secular world.

The sounds Randolph gets out of his instrument are astonishing—chiming chord clusters, barks and growls, subterranean bass notes and shrieking, heavy metal-style sustained leads. The Family Band is just as impressive, especially electric guitarist Johnny Gale, who often joins Randolph for extended harmonic excursions.

“Love Do What It Do,” with a vocal by guest Darius Rucker (Hootie & the Blowfish), and “Find A Way” combine the most uplifting aspects of church music with a sound that owes more than a little to Sly and the Family Stone. Randolph introduces the band’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You,” with a solo that demonstrates the subtle vocal nuances he can produce on the pedal steel.